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Creators should benefit when their copyright is stolen

La république des lettres —
Creators should benefit when their copyright is stolen

A recent Herald article about a university fining students for illegally downloading movies and then putting that money towards campus costs, rather than to creators, draws comparison with another era.

In 1974, the modern photocopier arrived, making the copying of other people's work very easy.

Universities and schools were among the largest users of photocopiers – copying chapter upon chapter of books to hand out to students, whom they charged via coin-operated gadgets.

The creators, however, were not paid for the reuse of their work.

It wasn't until a feisty author called Gus O'Donnell joined forces with two wet-behind-the-ears lawyers, David Catterns and Peter Banki, to challenge the universities' practices in court that the chancellors started to sit up and take notice.

O'Donnell, Banki and Catterns, dubbed "The Three Musketeers", felt so passionate about respect for creators they enlisted high-profile authors such as Tom Keneally, Frank Moorhouse, Peter Carey, Judith Wright, Xavier Herbert and Tom Shapcott to back them.

This kicked off the formation of the Copyright Agency. Nine times they went to court to stand up for creators, eight times they won. Universities and schools can copy and share material but they have to make a fair payment for it.

This copying scheme for schools and universities is still running today. It means teachers don't have to worry about getting permission because the scheme covers them with a licence.

As a writer, I've never had one cent in Copyright Agency payments, although several of my books were university texts and widely copied, but that was early in the game. I am, however, delighted for other writers who have benefited since. In its first 10 years, the agency collected less than $20. The whole painful exercise appeared quixotic. But in the following 30 years it has paid out more than $1 billion. The money goes to journalists, authors, photographers, illustrators, cartoonists, poets and publishers.

This week Australia's Copyright Agency Limited celebrates 40 years of fighting for creators.

Writing pays our bills. Respecting copyright means respecting creators. The fact that universities and schools, once the greatest of pirates, are now serious about reducing piracy is a step in the right direction, but it's to be hoped that instead of pocketing fines, they return the money to those from whom it has, in fact, been stolen.

Writing and all other creative endeavours are hard work – writing fiction is likened to digging ditches – and the amount of effort for the return is an appalling low ratio.

That the Copyright Agency can reward writers is very important to our culture, especially as today the incomes of authors and artists are slowly eroding because copying and sharing is easier than ever before. A small but active minority believe everything on the internet is free, or should be free.

Recently, however, I've noticed people starting to discuss a new etiquette for the internet and the appearance of digital citizens who want to act ethically for the good of society. They understand that to experience engaging and life-changing books, drama, movies, images and investigative journalism, payment must be made. That payment sustains those men and women who enrich individuals and whole communities in untold ways – sometimes for a lifetime.

Author Blanche d'Alpuget was chair of the Australian Society of Authors and on the board of the Australian Copyright Agency in 1991. Her most recent work is historical novel The Lion Rampant.

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JFV 10/12/2014 03:24

Merci pour vos encouragements bien agréables !

en savoir plus 05/12/2014 03:02

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